Monday 9 July 2018

The Growth Corruption

Andrew Wilson with Nicola Sturgeon, 

Andrew Wilson is managing partner of a lobbying firm, Charlotte Street Partners. There's no secret about that. The business of Charlotte Street Partners is to lobby the Scottish government in the interests of commercial companies. There's no secret about that. When Nicola Sturgeon appointed Andrew Wilson as chair of the growth commission, she knew this; there's no question about that.

What is secret is who the clients of Charlotte Street Partners are: who actually pays this piper. We don't know. We don't know whether Nicola Sturgeon knows.

Among the members of the Growth Commission were a number of business people; there's no secret about that. Nor is there anything inherently corrupt about that - any commission looking into the economy needs to take cognisance of the interests of business. For the record, they were:
  1. Dan McDonald, businessman and founder of N56 group
  2. Marie Macklin CBE, Founder and Chief Executive of the Klin Group and Macklin Enterprise Partnership
  3. Mark Shaw, Chief Executive, Hazeldene Group
  4. Petra Wetzel, founder and Managing Director WEST Brewery
Again: there is nothing inherently wrong with businesspeople taking part in this commission, and their taking part does not say anything against them. But we don't know whether any of these people is a client of Charlotte Street Partners.

The commission met with 22 trade bodies, and, again, there's nothing wrong with that; you'd expect them to. Full disclosure, the Chief Executive of ScotlandIS, one of those 22 trade bodies, is my sister.

At each meeting with a trade body, some members of that trade body participated; the minimum number was three, the maximum was twenty. It's entirely proper that when the commission met with a trade body, some members of that body should be present, and should put their views.

The commission report notes in section 1.15 that these meetings were held 'under Chatham House Rules'. What does this mean? It means this:
"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."
Again, there's nothing inherently wrong about this. Chatham House rules are used to allow people to speak frankly, and frank speaking is what a commission such as this needs.

But something stinks, and it is this: we don't know which companies spoke with the commission at these twenty-two meetings, we don't know what was said, and we don't know which of them were clients of Andrew Wilson's firm. What we do know is that the growth commission came up with a set of recommendations which were extraordinarily favourable to the interests of the rich.

I think there are questions for two people to answer here. One is Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to explain why she chose a corporate lobbyist to lead this very important commission. Yes, I acknowledge that Andrew Wilson is a member of the SNP, I acknowledge he is a member of the Scottish Great and Good, and I acknowledge he is an economist. But, actually, the SNP is not short of members who are well regarded, economists, and not corporate shills. So why Andrew Wilson?

For Andrew Wilson there are more questions. Has any member of the commission ever been a client of Charlotte Street Partners, and if so, whom? Has anyone the commission had meetings with been a client of Charlotte Street Partners, and if so, whom? Did any client of Charlotte Street Partners have early sight of the Growth Commission report, and if so, whom? Did any comment on it, and if so did any such comment result in changes to the text? If so, whom, and what changes?

In a small nation there is a short step from cronyism to outright corruption. Andrew Wilson's business - the representation, for money, of undisclosed interests in undisclosed meetings with undisclosed senior members of government - is also a very short step away from from outright corruption. So, I say again: we need, very clearly, to know which of Andrew Wilson's clients were given the opportunity to influence the growth commission report.

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